May 4, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
So here we are, the final week of this election campaign and it has a different feel to most UK elections since 1945, in which the final week of campaigning is the exciting bit then the reins of Government move smoothly from one party to another, or stay with the same Government. Political scientists cite the speed and serenity of the handover of Government in the UK (no ‘transition period’, people move in to their ministries the next day etc) as one of the biggest strengths of our Parliamentary Democracy. Yet that won’t be happening this week. There will be nothing speedy and nothing serene about what will start to happen on May 8th. Constitutional experts have never been so busy and one party have already consulted lawyers. A look at the choices for the three mainstream parties after May 8th explains why.
If we start with the Conservatives. Should Labour get more votes and seats than the Tories, David Cameron will almost certainly resign. It just isn’t his style to hang on in that situation. Ed Miliband will be left to try to form a new government and the Tories may either quickly crown a new leader, or, more likely, take their time to work out which direction they should go. That choice will depend quite a lot on the amount of votes UKIP gets, which determines whether the Tories will feel they need to push right to get back into Downing Street.
However, due to Scotland, where rumour has it Labour has almost given up, the Conservatives are likely to win more votes and more seats overall. Look out in particular for them actually beating Labour for the popular vote in Scotland, given how many Labour voters are moving to the SNP. Should the Tories win, it all depends how many seats they, the Lib Dems and the DUP have. If, together it adds up to more than 323 (required for a majority as Sinn Fein and the Speaker don’t vote), then they will most probably try and forge a coalition. The success and substance of those negotiations will depend on which Lib Dems have retained their seats, and who is leader (not a foregone conclusion). Remember that both Conservative and Lib Dem MPs will get to vote on any deal.
If a coalition cannot be formed, David Cameron may decide to form a minority government. He will argue that the only way he wouldn’t is if Ed Miliband can definitely form his own government, and he believes they will have to do a deal with the SNP for that to happen, which Miliband has vowed not to do, leaving him with few other options to be able to form a government with any kind of minority. Now, you may think Cameron trying to form a minority government is rather masochistic, given Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the parties on the left will vote down a Tory Queen speech (which has to be passed for the Government to be able to rule). But sources are saying that Cameron will make the Queen’s Speech a vote of confidence and dare this “anti-Tory” majority to bring down his government in plain sight, in which case they would have to make an argument that they are doing so in the best interests of the UK, which could be difficult.
It is Labour who are consulting lawyers about the constitutional implications of Cameron hanging on at number 10 even though he is unlikely to get a Queen’s Speech passed. Ed Miliband, however, may be haunted by a video that has been unearthed of an interview he gave the day after the 2010 election, in which he justified Gordon Brown staying in Downing Street for a while, saying that “The prime minister – the constitutional position is clear – gets to have the first crack.”
The advantage for Labour is that, whilst they may have to form a minority government, they do have some policies they can put in the Queen Speech that would be voted through by, they believe, every other party bar the Conservatives and possibly UKIP, such as ending the bedroom tax and exploitative zero hour contracts. Labour feel that they therefore have more chance of making a minority government ‘stick’. Despite all of Miliband’s dissembling, they almost definitely would need the SNP to vote with them in order to govern. This is more of an opportunity than it might seem. It allows a Labour government to begin with the more radical, left-leaning parts of its programme, knowing the SNP will have to vote with them, given their suddenly accepted position of equating Scottish Nationalism with socialism.
Miliband has had a very good campaign, and therefore may well be able to stay on after the election even if they cannot form a government. There is still a possibility, despite the restrictions of Fixed Term Parliament Act, that there could be a second election in the near future, and Miliband has shown that he is nowhere near the liability the party thought he was.
It is hard to predict what the Liberal Democrats will do from May 8th as it all depends on who has a seat. Danny Alexander is almost certainly gone, and it is believed David Laws will struggle to hang on as well, which means that the more right-leaning members of the last coalition negotiation team may not be in much of a strong position this time. Then there is Nick Clegg, who may not win his seat. Wiout these three, David Cameron is looking at a vastly different prospect in terms of forging a coalition that would work for him and his party.
That’s because the heirs apparent are both left-leaning. Vince Cable could well be a caretaker leader but the favourite is Tim Farron. Farron has been asked by quite a few constituents on the campaign trail why he isn’t a Labour candidate, so it would be safe to say he would be fare more likely to lean towards Labour if there is a choice.
The Lib Dems have been quite assertive in the media about their ‘red lines’, which include no cuts in public sector pay and education. But they are likely to only be bringing half the number of seats they had last time to the table, and that could be a major problem for them, as the extent to which they can help a coalition partner to govern effectively is limited.